Monthly Archives: March 2011

The Social Contract In Australia

Our Very Own Quango

There’s some discussion about a buyer’s strike being put forward by the Get Up! crowd. I tend to think if you cant afford it, then you’re already at the picket line of a buyer’s strike. If you can afford it, then you’re a scab, but hey, you only have to look after your own interests in a market.

Anyway, in light of the campaign, some articles have popped up, but this one had this interesting passage:

Australian housing doesn’t have anything to do with economics. It long since ceased being a “market” at all.

Rather, it is a political complex – a quango – that represents the single largest page in the socio-economic contract between the government, the Australian financial system and an ageing baby-boomer population.

When the baby-boomer generation first took power and reshaped Australia in the 1980s, the promise was for a new kind of meritocracy.

The old “Australian Settlement” described brilliantly by Paul Kelly in The End of Certainty – a protectionist social contract between unions, industry, government and the people – was swept aside in favour of a neoliberal vision.

That bit kicks off an interesting historical analysis of just what happened to the Australian property market, which is now experiencing historically anomalous prices. The rest of it makes for interesting reading so do stick with it. For those who think that the Property prices aren’t artificially propped up by the government, the RBA and the banks, then this passage alone might help you understand that it’s been propped up very nicely:

The final death knell of the new vision surely came in 2003 when the old national good luck arrived in the nick of time.

As the housing quango lay dying in 2003, along came a commodities boom the likes of which nobody had seen in century. The transformation was complete.

The entrepreneurial vision of those pioneering ’80s baby-boomers replaced with happy-jack dirt salesmen and a bloated entitlement state that now had the money to keep its most hideous progeny, the great, quivering housing sack that hung from its belly, alive.

Staying alive

In 2008, when the world woke up and the mutated vision was revealed in all its horrible form, the government deployed every available mechanism to keep the thing alive.

Unheard of guarantees across the financial system, moral hazards like leaves in the wind, wholesale immigration, massive direct subsidies, huge general stimulus.

This might be forgivable if it was at least honest and openly declared. But it wasn’t and isn’t. Instead, those that had sat outside the system, hoping for a house or sagely planning to swoop when the bubble burst, are insulted with blandishments about how robust the system is, how they missed out on the “market”.

Even though this so-called “market” long since ceased to bear any relation to laws of supply and demand.

Rather than let it be a market, and fall, authorities insult them again and again with “affordability” programs. Just yesterday, a reader sent me a link to a Victorian government program that is running a lottery for first-home buyers to win a new home at 25 per cent off.

I don’t really know if the absence of affordability immediately translates into a crisis as such. I am, however, quite suspicious of a ‘market’ that keeps staying aloft in light of the global financial crisis that has brought property prices crashing in other parts of the world. The absence of corrections, as engineered by the Federal Government clearly is an artificial, distorting force in the market place.

When I think about it, I don’t mind property speculators speculating, even, but the fact that the government and the RBA and banks won’t let property prices go down according to the market’s dictates, means those speculators are all protected. People go on about the moral hazards for banks, but it seems people with mortgages in Australia are being bailed out by the very same moral hazard. That part of it does seem incredibly unfair, given that nobody bails out renters, stock speculators and people with money in dodgy Superannuation schemes who then get told they owe the tax office tons of money.

That’s not the only thing going in the SMH today. Here’s yet another interesting article on the same topic but on a different tangent, covering Negative Gearing.

By contrast, the Australian income tax system provides substantial incentives for people to borrow money to acquire property, shares or other assets with a value they expect will appreciate over time. Unlike most other countries, it has always been possible in Australia to deduct any excess of interest payments on loans taken out to fund an investment over the income produced by that investment to reduce the tax payable on wage or salary income.

Since the Howard government’s decision in 1999 to tax capital gains at half the rate applicable to the same amount of wage and salary income, a decision that was supported by the then opposition, ”negative gearing” has become a means not only of deferring tax, but also permanently reducing it.

In 1998-99, when capital gains were last taxed at the same rate as other types of income (less an allowance for inflation), Australia had 1.3 million tax-paying landlords who in total made a taxable profit of almost $700 million. By 2007-08, the latest year for which statistics are available, the number of tax-paying landlords had risen to 1.7 million, but they collectively lost more than $8.6 billion, largely because the amount they paid out in interest rose more than fourfold (from about $5 billion to more than $20 billion over this period), while the amount they collected in rent ”only” slightly more than doubled (from $11 billion to $24 billion), as did other (non-interest) expenses.

If all the 1.2 million landlords who reported net losses in 2007-08 were in the 38 per cent income tax bracket, their ability to offset those losses against their other taxable income would have cost more than $4.8 billion in revenue forgone; if (say) a fifth of them had been in the top tax bracket, then the cost to revenue would have been more than $5 billion.

This is a pretty big subsidy from people who are working and saving to people who are borrowing and speculating (since those landlords who are making ”running losses” on their property investments expect to more than make up those losses through capital gains when they eventually sell them).

That right there is the Quango the earlier article was talking about. That’s our social contract in this country. If the speculators are encouraged to speculate by tax law AND they can’t lose, is it really incorrect to say the system is rigged? I guess the answer is that you’d be an idiot not to jump in, and that is exactly what’s been going on for years and years.

As David Llewellyn-Smith says in the first article, a buyer’s strike isn’t the answer. But it’s going to be a hell of government that’s going to find the will power to break out of the Quango.

Don’t Look Away, Deflation Is Here

It’s been an interesting week with Colorado going bankrupt thanks to Private Equity Fuck-ups, much like how the Borders/Angus&Robertson chain has gone into administration. Suddenly they’re flogging their wares at cut prices. A&R will  close another 12 stores and 102people will lose their jobs.

In amidst of all that is this article saying heavy discounting buoys retail sales.

Retail spending increased 0.5 per cent in February, to a seasonally adjusted $20.535 billion, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reported today.

Economists’ forecasts had centred on a 0.3 per cent rise in the month.Unlike the 0.4 per cent rise in January, sales in February were driven higher by spending on discretionary items, such as household goods, and on items excluding food, said JPMorgan economist Helen Kevans.

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‘‘That suggests consumers are showing less caution than we thought,’’ Ms Kevans said.

The rise in household goods sales suggested a strong increase in sales volumes, due to heavy discounting, she said.

‘‘In the wake of the rate hike (in November 2010), they weren’t even attracted to discounting, but now they are.’’

That’s curious, but then again if Borders and Angus&Robertson and Colorado and JAG and all those stores are hurling goods out at a discount, then there’s going to be a discount war; it’s not surprising at a certain price point people felt like it was worth spending the money.

I hate to break this to people but this kind of price war is going to lead to the sort of deflationary spiral Japan experienced. This is exactly how it started. You read it here first.

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The Bitter End

Ponting Retires From Captaincy

I feel like I’ve been watching Ricky Ponting for a long time. If there’s one sporting figure that makes me feel old, it’s actually Ricky Ponting. Not Derek Jeter or Roger Federer or even Tiger Woods. But then he’s always made me feel that way since he broke into the test side as a 19 year old prodigy. It’s very strange to see him at this point in his career being pushed out of his position which looked like a birthright on the way up. The vitriol poured on the man is even more remarkable given his accomplishments as a player. Everybody carries on about Don Bradman, but by all accounts he was equally obnoxious in person if not more so than Ricky Ponting. I get it that there’s some part of a professional athlete’s job description to be likeable, but I’ve always felt people are asking way too much of this guy.

Maybe I’m a bit weird that way. I can handle Barry Bonds being Bary Bonds, Canseco being Canseco, Clemens being Clemens; steroids and lies and bad attitudes and rudeness and all. I don’t expect them to be role models. I liked John McEnroe at his rudest. I liked Michael Jordan at his most disdainful, Charles Barkley at his most pugnacious and Shane Heal for standing toe to toe with Sir Charles at the Atlanta Olympics, screaming back at his face. Ricky sledges? “Why not?” I thought. Sledge away, son. He wins ugly? Sure beats losing beautifully.

Anyway, he quit the captaincy today and the obits on his captaincy are in.

The difference was as simple as Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath, who played all the Waugh years, and all the Mark Taylor years before him, but only half of Ponting’s. Indubitably, a cricket captain is only as good as his team. Ponting’s was much turned over, became brittle and unstable, yet somehow was allowed to grow old and stagnant, too. It was also distracted by the Indian Premier League revolution.

It was said of Sir Donald Bradman that his unique advantage as captain was himself as batsman. It could be said of captain Ponting that he had only himself upon who to rely. Ponting batted at No. 3 throughout his tenure, indeed has batted in that keystone position exclusively for the past 10 years. It is a singular feat of shouldered responsibility; Sachin Tendulkar, for instance, has never played a Test innings at No. 3.

In his insistence to bat so high, Ponting was in the end too stubborn. The strain showed in other aspects of his captaincy, and grew. But Ponting’s fault was to care too much rather than too little. Besides, no likely usurper emerged, either as captain or No. 3, a detail that tells of Australia’s cricketing decline.

Well I’ve been saying for about 6years that we don’t have as bright a future beyond Ponting as we once thought. So it surprises me a little bit that people are so keen to consign him to the dustbin.

Can he bat any better? Very doubtful. He might strike the occasional vein of form but they will be fewer and last less time with every passing season.

And, with every match he plays on, the reinvigoration of the Australian cricket team is further delayed. How many ageing batsmen can the team carry? Already there are Simon Katich and Mike Hussey, both almost 36. Age marks the prospects of both, yet Katich and Hussey have far more to prove and therefore more reason to play on than Ponting who, despite his record as a thrice-losing Ashes captain, has achieved everything in the game that he could have ever dreamed of.

Each night Julia Gillard must stick pins in her Kevin07 doll; Tony Abbott can doubtless see the face of Malcolm Turnbull every time he pounds the heavy bag. Don’t make Michael Clarke carry the baggage of an old leader into a new future.

I don’t know about all that. Seems to me they should just let him bat and see what’s left in the tank before kicking him to the curb. It’s not as if there are better batsmen a-plenty. In its longest run, it’s only going to be another couple of summers and then he will well and truly be gone. But you might wait another lifetime to see a batsman as amazing as Ricky Ponting play for Australia. I just don’t get the vitriol. You’d think he slept with everybody’s spouse – thrice.

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Won’t Have Kristina To Dick Around Anymore

No Splintering To The Left

I have to admit that I must be pretty radical when it comes to the political spectrum. I’m not exactly a communist – far from it, but I sure as hell don’t run with the conservatives come hell or high water. Which chased me into my choice of voting Green. I don’t regret it even though in my seat, the Green candidate won’t come close to the line. The Liberal Candidate ended up with a 25% or so swing in his favour according to the election night telecast on TV. (Thanks Angela D’Amore, you are the gift that keeps on giving, like a Herpes virus).

I’m a little amused that Kerry O’Brien started off the night by saying it was going to be a bloodbath, everybody knows the result; the only question is just how much of a bloodbath. Even more amusing was the ALP colour commentator they had – Luke Foley, I think he’s called – who came across as somebody with an IQ of about 75. He had to admit it was catastrophic, the resulting devastation was going to be cataclysmic and that the ALP were going to have to do a lot of soul searching. Well, d’uh.

I guess nobody looks smart when their heads are getting beaten in; and yet even he had one reason to crow and that was that Carmel Tebbutt was likely to hold Marrickville against Fiona Byrne, and went on to bag out Fiona Byrne for being a terrible  candidate for the Greens.

Which all got me to thinking how much of the ALP vote that might have been swinging votes and traditional votes ran to the right into the arms of the Liberal and National Parties. Luke Foley was saying that the ‘Labor Heartland’ no longer exists. That might be true, and by extension this might be one of those elections that changes the state for ever. The ALP may not be able to win in NSW until well past 2020. And if the Hawke-Keating years and  the Howard years proved something, 10+years can change the culture of a place dramatically. NSW might turn into an arch-conservative state.

So where does that leave me with my radicalised environmental vote? Gagging on my recycled materials wooden spoon.

The Rush To The Right

Given the sort of miasma and nauseating whirlwind that was the Labor government of the last 4 years, it’s not surprising that the middle rushed to the right, just pull the handbrakes on the craziness. I don’t know if it’s even a rational choice given that 79% of the electorate don’t know what the Coalition’s policies are and that 65% voted them in.

The poll is at odds with predictions that the gap between the parties would narrow as voters paid more attention closer to the election. It suggests voters switched off long ago.

Asked how much they felt they knew about the Coalition’s policies, 79 per cent said they knew either ”little” or ”nothing at all”, with just 21 per cent saying they knew a lot.

Knowledge of Labor’s policies was slightly better, with 68 per cent saying they knew little or nothing and 31 per cent saying they knew a lot.

This could mean that a lot of people are going to wake up tomorrow and wonder just what the hell they’ve done but I guess it’s too late for that now. The ALP haven’t done much for the image of stability. That Karl Bitar fellow and ‘protected’ US informant Mark ‘The Mole’ Arbib have done over Morris Iemma, Nathan Rees,while doing the same Federally for Kevin Rudd and helping Julia Gillard to a hung Parliament has made the ALP a laughingstock in most conversations I’ve come across.

The unfortunate upshot is that it’s pushed a lot of people to the right, and it amazes me how unimaginative people are when it comes to their politics. Here’s the thing. I voted Greens last time too, but I preferenced ALP. If Nathan Rees was still Premier, I might have been persuaded to still vote ALP even. As soon as they dumped Rees and put in Kenneally I vowed they would not get my vote, and it’s a sentiment that’s been shared by many people I’ve spoken to. I’m amazed that most of the people who felt that way took it as a cue to vote in Barry O’Farrell, but I guess that’s the 2 party system for you.

In any case, it’s not like all is lost for the ALP faithful of NSW. It’s just a bleeding state election to kick out a tired, over-ripe, incompetent ALP government. Surely some of those who ran to vote in Barry O’Farrell will come back as prodigal votes. It’s the nature of politics.

Can The Greens Get Beyond The Marginalia Of Politics?

On the basis of tonight’s result, I think this is going to be a tougher ask than I thought. So far it’s counting about 11%. That suggests that:

  • 10 out of 11% are crackpot socialists and tree-hugging hippies and dope-smoking Newtown-ites.
  • Only the extra 1% represent the people who jumped to the left. The 20% swing to the right represent the middle.

I think 1% is an incredibly hard basis to build a platform upon when you’re already outnumbered 10 to 1 by the loonies in your own party. 13% at the Federal election was a good showing, but in closer examination, the Greens are still the party of feral-loonies, druggies, hippies the dispossessed and socialist-idiots.

By contrast, at 50% of the vote, the current crop of Coalition voters are people with desperate mortgages and the NIMBY crowd. Laura Norder didn’t even factor into it this time around.

One Final Thought About Kristina Kenneally

I’ll be flayed for writing this, but what the hell. Everything else is going down in flames.

I’m thinking that Kristina Kenneally has to represent the end of the line of that crappy brand of 1980s feminism that saw male chauvinism layered in to every text and wrote post-modern essays about gender politics in Shakespeare to Bananarama. Let’s call it, ‘Quota Feminism’ for want of a better tag. It gave us Verity Firth and Carmel Tebbutt and Angela D’Amore and Virginia Judge and Kristina Kenneally in an awful hurry.

Here’s the thing: If that line of thinking really had merit, Kenneally and company would have been more persuasive figures – And I do say this with my deepest condolences to the Po-Mo 1980s feminists I know, but the rise of Kristina Kenneally (and to some extent Julia Gillard) has got to be one of the more abstruse and disaffecting manifestations of that line of thinking.

Was it any good? Goodness, the proof sure is in the pudding tonight, isn’t it? Half the electorate ran screaming to a patriarchal-looking Barry O’Farrell. Doubtless Germaine Greer is going to write an article for The Observer over in the UK saying how this proves we’re all sexist shits in NSW, and how Kristina Kenneally was defeated by the forces of backward oppressive patriarchal men. But you see, that’s exactly where the ideological rot is at.

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On The Eve Of The NSW Election

Vote Green

I was at the usual shop picking up lunch when I ran into some people I always meet. One of them said he was thinking of voting for the Greens. The other was a gnarled mechanic in overalls saying the Greens want to bring in death duties. I interjected, “well why not?”

“Kerry Packer said why should his family give up money so you can misuse it?” the older guy retorted.

“For the common good. That’s why. I mean Jamie Packer didn’t exactly work for that money. Why the hell should he get such a big head start in life on account of his dad being obscenely rich?”

“Yeah but if my mum dies and she leaves half a million, why should the government tax that?”

“For the common good.”

“…But they’ll only waste that.”

“…and you’d only sit on it for you own pleasure. How’s that helping anybody? If it’s all the same, the 15% they would take from it would be put to better use than you sitting on it,” I offered. “I mean, you didn’t earn it. Your mum did; and when she goes, she can’t take it with her, so a portion may as well go to the state, because the state probably looked after her as much as you with its hospitals and doctors and nurses.”

You should have seen the guy’s expression. He was apoplectic with rage. I said, “mate, don’t worry. I think they should tax everybody more, but that’s just me. We don’t pay enough taxes as it is and we wonder why our hospitals are clogged with waiting lists.”

He looked even angier.

“I mean, tax everybody. Who really cares?” I continued. “The money you get taxed, do you really miss it? There’s still enough for you to pay your bills and pay your rent and still have a drink with your mates. I mean what were you going to do with it that was going to change other people’s lives? That’s what governments do, so give them what they need.”

“…But they’ll waste it,” he offered again. “That’s what governments do. They waste it.”

“What? On hospitals and ambulances and police and emergency rescue workers and all that? Roads and trains and water and sewerage treatment and electricity? How about schools for kids, day care centres for infants and libraries and colleges and TAFE? Apprenticeship schemes where you got your training, it’s all a waste is it?”

“Bullshit mate,” he snarled, grabbed his lunch, and stormed out. Couldn’t say I blamed him. I’d hate to be harangued by me while picking up my lunch too.

The first guy said, “I’ve been back to Greece and when you go to the country side, they have nothing. No roads, no schools, no sewerage or running water. It’s like medieval times. They don’t even know about taxes. Never even heard of the idea, let alone paid it. And the place is so backwards and they wonder why. So yeah, taxes are fine by me,” he said.

Apparently, that’s the way things are in the spiritual home of democracy and a country racked with sovereign debt issues.

So vote green, peeps! Vote for higher taxes for the rich. Get a little Bolshy. Higher taxes never killed anybody.

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Libya In The Targetsight

Peace Through War

In one of those weird turns of history, NATO are at war with colonel Gadhafi’s Libya. It came together around much French diplomacy as well as Kevin Rudd flying around telling people the rebels of Libya needed a no-fly zone to at least have an even chance to oust Colonel Gadhafi.

On a political level, Mr Sarkozy badly wanted to restore the credibility of French diplomacy after failing to read the Arab uprisings in Tunisia and then Egypt. Last month, he had to get rid of his foreign minister, Michèle Alliot-Marie, after she not only offered French security “savoir faire” to the Tunisian regime just days before it fell, but then failed to explain her links to a businessman close to the deposed rulers. French diplomats have been mortified by the damage this did to the country’s standing. Moreover, Mr Sarkozy had personal reasons to want to turn the screws on Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, who last week called him a “clown”, and whose son, Saif al-Islam,  alleged without evidence that Libya had helped to finance his 2007 presidential-election campaign (a claim denied by the Elysée).

Another factor has been the arrival of Alain Juppé to replace Ms Alliot-Marie. A former prime minister, and one-time foreign minister, he has brought heavyweight experience to the job. Initially hesitant about intervening militarily, he laid down various conditions for backing the establishment of a no-fly zone over Libyan airspace: it would need the international legitimacy of a clear United Nations Security Council resolution; it should not be a NATO operation because of the Alliance’s image in the Arab world as an American tool; it would need at least symbolic Arab military participation; and it would require an explicit call from the Arab world.

Last week, Mr Juppé cancelled a trip to Berlin at the last moment to fly to New York to plead France’s case in person at the UN Security Council on March 17th. (The speech carried distinct echoes of that by Dominique de Villepin, a former foreign minister, who argued just as passionately against military intervention in Iraq in 2003.) By the time resolution 1973 was passed, and with the nod of the Arab League, all of Mr Juppé’s conditions had been, broadly, met. The Paris summit tied up the loose ends, and supplied non-Western legitimacy, however symbolic. On French television a few hours after French fighter jets had begun to strike Libyan tanks, Mr Juppé spoke persuasively and calmly of “calculated risks”, and the restoration of French honour in defending its values.

If you add in that wars can help politicians in the polls, maybe it’s not surprising. Wars are an interesting adjunct to the post GFC landscape as the West now has ample motivation to go and fight a gratuitous war to increase military spending and by extension help the GDP. America is less motivated to join this war because it’s already got Afghanistan, and barely got out of Iraq having gone there exactly to shore up markets after 9/11. Of course thre’s the dirty big debt that got racked up to think about, but nobody is capable of dealing with that.

The other thing to watch of course is oil price. Libyan crude is actually the best crude in the world and goes into airplanes. So not only will the oil price rise, it will likely rise in a way so as to hurt airline margins. It’s not something that will show up immediately but you can bet your bottom dollar this is going to hurt industries around the world. The longer the action continues in Libya, the more we’re going to line ourselves up for GFC part 2. The ideal scenario is a quick finish, but it’s actually hard to see an endgame in the Libyan contest. Do these rebels really have what it takes to oust Gadhafi from his lair/bunker/stronghold in Tripoli? It’s a good question sure to worry at least more than Nikolas Sarkozy or Mr Juppé.

You wonder why so much of the world continues to be happy relying on oil for fuel when it is so vulnerable to events in the middle east. One would have thought that other industries might have put on more pressure for energy companies and the like to look for better alternatives that don’t put us all at the whims of dictators and Arab militants and other assorted complications that are opaque, irrational, and willfully hostile and difficult. I mean, do people like say, Steve Jobs or George Soros or Steve Ballmer or the guy running General Motors these days really enjoy this affecting their share prices?

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Here We Go Again

You Can’t Judge Film by Its Audiences

But you can sure judge a flop by its dismal figures.

It proved to be a disastrous weekend at the box office as three Australian films – Griff the Invisible, The Reef and A Heartbeat Away – failed dismally to connect with local audiences.

Of the three, Griff the Invisible did best, taking a modest $66,344 on 20 screens, its so-so per-screen score of $3317 suggesting it will drop out of the top 20 by next week. That is, of course, unless a miracle occurs and the film becomes an unexpected word-of-mouth hit.

The Reef did poorly with its $58,196 take on 36 screens, its per-screen figure of $1617 indicating very little interest.

Worst of all, though, was A Heartbeat Away. The $7 million film directed by first-time film director Gale Edwards took a dire $44,204 on 77 screens, its abysmal screen average of $574 being among the worst of any Australian film in recent memory. The film’s unqualified failure conjured the spectre of The Tender Hook, the 2008 Australian film that also cost $7 million and which took less than $60,000.

The combined take of all three films – $168,744 – was less than what the Liam Neeson actioner Unknown took across its fifth weekend. ($187,255 on 102 screens).

The figures speak for themselves, but just to be sure, none of them are on track to make any money back. The bottom of the article reads like this:

So the last thing the enterprise needs is catastrophic, clueless weekends like the one we’ve just had.

Sad enough that the films themselves reflected common shortcomings in so many local films. Just as sad was the lack of marketplace nous that has often seen good Australian films die at the box office. Three local films coming out the same weekend as two tent-pole Hollywood studio films? It’s almost as if the films didn’t want audiences.

If the weekend has any upside it’s of being symbolic of the type of event we thought was behind us. Certainly the spectacle of an all-but-unwatchable $7 million Australian film playing to virtually no audience is something that should have been consigned to the past – and something Australian cinema can ill afford to indulge or repeat.

So just some general points:

* The issue of marketing remains key. Many people say they’ve never even heard of these films.

* How a debut film director can be allowed to helm a $7 million production has angered many, and with good cause. You could have made four Wolf Creeks for that. What happened to the idea of earning that kind of budget with a proven track record of successful smaller films?

* Quality script development continues to draw focus. People are clearly tired of industry rhetoric about how “the story is all”, especially when those stories simply don’t play.

* The hope is that this dreadful weekend might be the tail end of an era where these long-standing problems ruled. With a new audience-orientated mindset apparently governing production now, this weekend might be the final death throe of an old way of doing things. That’s the prayer, anyway.

* Critics going “soft” on local films has again come up. CineTopia states again, for the record, that we NEVER go soft on a film, for whatever reason. The notion of giving Australian films a two-star tariff to encourage “support” for it is worse than useless, it’s counter-productive. For what is to be gained by encouraging people to see films you think stink?

Goodness. Aren’t they words of wisdom? But it keeps repeating. I’m sick of blogging about how AWFUL the whole venture of ‘Australian Film Industry’ has become. Yesterday I spent some time talking to my contact out at a funding body and they’re just looking for good story ideas as much as the next studio. But screenwriting in this country is so weak, and the scripts out there are actually really mundane or terrible or worse, nonsensical. There’s been 2 decades of neglect and the whole population of writers are in deprivation shock.But here are some problem areas that come from the neglect:

  • Nobody knows what to write about because of budget reasons.
  • Nobody knows who to write for, because most have never thought about the demographic of film viewers.
  • Nobody knows how to deliver the craft. I’m sorry but that’s the assessment.
  • Nobody wants to see Australian films just because they’re Australian.
  • Nobody in the private sector wants to *invest* in such a losing venture. Nobody in their right mind anyway.

The bottom lines is that it’s still early to see if anything can come back; but these kinds of weekends are not encouraging. I could say more but I don’t have the energy any more. It’s too frustrating.

Piracy Isn’t Killing The Industry

On the same day in the SMH, we get this article. The interesting bit is here:

In February last year, the anti-piracy arm of the music industry, Music Industry Piracy Investigations (MIPI), put out a thunderous press release claiming it had helped police “shut down one of Australia’s largest illegal music burning operations” in Melbourne.

Acting on information from MIPI, police seized “close to 100 CD burners and approximately 25,000 discs containing pirate music housed in a suburban CD store”.

MIPI’s general manager, Sabiene Heindl, said at the time: “This is one of the largest and most blatant illegal music burning labs that we have seen for some time.”

It was only this year that the case finally ground its way through the courts and further details were released.

Of the 25,000 “pirate” CDs that MIPI claimed it seized, 14,600 were blanks, while the remaining discs were mostly of Asian artists which the store, Lucky Bubble, had a licence to reproduce.

Less than 100 of the discs were proven to be pirated copies and the charges were dropped to the lowest possible level. The manager of the store, who claims the handful of pirated discs were placed in his shop by staff, in the end was let go with a $1500 fine.

It’s a far cry from the hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties and years in jail that MIPI warned about in its press release.

So, no, there is no big piracy operation going on out there. Just the old internet bit torrent thing that MIPI can’t do anything about. So it’s really a laugh when you see that REALLY LOUD announcement that goes “you wouldn’t steal, so you shouldn’t pirate” that kicks off half the DVDs out there, wherein they mount that argument that piracy is destroying the future of the Australian Film Industry.

Ah, no.

It’s crappy films and crappy development and crappy government development agencies and government funding as corporate welfare that keeps Australian film genuinely uncompetitive, that is killing the future of this industry. If you want my opinion, 20 years of this stuff has already made it comatose.

Hey Look, Russell’s Still Doing OK

He’s just bought a $10m house in Rose Bay. He’s doing great. He could have bought a almost one and a half Australian movie flops with that money.

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Splintering To The Left, Part II

There was a time the ALP were the catch-all socially progressive party in Australia. Then they split over communism and while they stayed split, they had no chance to win government. Then they went back to being a big catch-all socially progressive party and were able to win government under Whitlam, Hawke, Keating and then Kevin Rudd. The recent development of the splintering to the left then is something that is likely to hamper the ALP’s ability to form government on its own. Peter Hartcher has this article in the SMH.

As an electoral edifice, Labor has long stood on two pillars. One is the working-class vote. The other is the progressive vote. In April last year, Labor detonated one of those pillars.

The fatal moment was when Kevin Rudd walked away from the fight on “the greatest moral and economic challenge of our time” by deferring his emissions trading scheme.

And when Gillard unseated Rudd, she moved the government further and further to the right, further and further away from its progressive voter base. Gillard cut a quick and dirty deal with the multinationals on the mining tax, promised to put asylum seekers in East Timor, and signalled a total abandonment of serious action on climate change with her “citizens’ assembly”.

A silly notion persists that Gillard is somehow on the left of Labor politics and Rudd was on the right. The truth is the opposite. Gillard was further right than Rudd on every major policy issue. That helps explain why Rudd’s lead assassins were from the Right faction and his last diehard defenders from the Left.

The result? Labor lost 676,000 primary votes at last year’s election while the Greens picked up 491,000. In other words, the Greens picked up three-quarters as many votes as Labor lost. We cannot know for certain that these were disillusioned and disgusted Labor voters going across to the Greens. But it’s a pretty safe assumption that the vast bulk were.

Labor self-destructed as the party of the progressive vote. The Greens staged their best performance yet with 12 per cent of the vote and Labor’s was one of its worst.

This is all true. Hartcher then analyses the ructions in terms of moves to the left and right which are all very valid, but I then thought it actually doesn’t capture the whole problem. For instance, I’ve largely been a voter for the ALP in the Hawke-Keating years through to Kevin Rudd because it was always imperative to stop John Howard. John Howard actually represented the nastiest, meanest, smallest-minded social conservatives of this country, so at each and every election it was important to for me to vote against and vote out John Howard’s electoral support.

But over time I’ve found myself at odds with my own voting: I am a free market capitalist. I was for the GST and not against it; I’ve not really been a unionist rank-and-file kind of ALP guy, I’m not a Catholic, and I’m not really invested in Socialism. I just hated John Howard and everything he stood for – entitlement and preserving entitlement including the entitlement to be racist bigoted and mean. I still think, “well, fuck you John Howward, fuck you very much” when I cast my mind to his prime ministership, which is not very grown-up of me, but that is the visceral loathing I’ve felt. I probably loathe Tony Abbott far less than that, though I do hold him in utter contempt for his Catholic-Church-driven hyper-idiotic nonsense positions on global warming.

So, the point is, the big tent of the Australian Labor Party was always a coalition of those who didn’t like John Howard and the vestiges of White Australia Policy Squat-ocracy. To that end the ALP has knitted together the SBS demographic and the ABC demographic against the Channel Nine demographic, with the Channel Seven demographic as the swinging centre. (Channel Ten doesn’t get a vote because its audiences are under 16, but I guess they are the ‘yoof’ vote).

Ultimately the limits of the ALP is that it can’t be all things to all people in a world of very complex issues and social needs. It can’t be that Bolshy socially progressive party and cater to the Catholic DLP right faction. It can’t be totally committed to environmental policies while looking after the interests of the big end of business. It can’t be corruption-free when it takes in organised ethnic votes.

And in a world of boutique consumerism where special needs are catered for by specialist services, it is inevitable that political parties begin to splinter around the urgency of the multiple individual policy positions. That is to say, the rise of the Greens is as the boutique political party for those who put environmental concerns ahead of things like workplace policies or gay marriage. Equally, the appearance of something like the Australian Sex Party in the last federal election is an expression of a party that places sexual and gender politics ahead of say, envrionmental policies. If you poked them deeply enough (pardon the pun) one would find they’re probably about as equally progressive as one another.

It might be the case that this signals the end of the ALP as the one-party fits all progressive party in Australia, but it shouldn’t diminish it from being a broker for all these ideas and policies.

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